For the WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, Dave Williamson reviews THE ESSENTIAL W. P. KINSELLA.
To celebrate the 80th birthday of Alberta-born writer W.P. Kinsella, San Francisco’s Tachyon Publications presents a retrospective collection of 31 short stories that includes some of his finest.
Kinsella is best known for his fanciful 1982 novel Shoeless Joe, which became the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams. He went on to publish other novels and short stories about baseball, but is also touted for his satirical yarns about First Nations people, narrated by Silas Ermineskin and featuring the irrepressible Frank Fencepost.
The Essential W.P. Kinsella offers a generous sampling of both the baseball and the Silas stories, as well as a variety of others that show off the author’s versatility.
Wavelengths is remarkably moving and a complete change of pace. C.J. and Brody compare their ambitions and views on women as they drive home to the state of Washington after playing minor-league ball in Florida.
In the satirical story The Indian Nation Cultural Exchange Program, narrator Silas tells the reader that the government once sent 52 John Deere manure spreaders to his reserve. “Nobody asked for them, and hardly anybody farm enough to want or need one.” His friend Bedelia says, “‘They should have sent us 52 politicians. They’re all born knowing how to spread manure. It keep them busy and they be doing something useful for the first time in their lives.’”
Kinsella is more serious but no less effective in First Names and Empty Pockets, his fantasy about singer Janis Joplin: “Bracelets splashing lights like diamonds, she high-steps to the microphone and begins her cooing, growling, guttural delivery. She is the spirit of Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and every gritty, gutsy blues singer who ever wailed.”
Do Not Abandon Me, one of two new stories never before published and also one of only two told from a woman’s point of view, is a cleverly done take on a lovers’ triangle.
In his introduction, Florida professor Rick Wilber sums up what is found in The Essential W.P. Kinsella: “The magic, the compassion, the humour, the power and the sheer brilliance of storytelling.”
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For more info about THE ESSENTIAL W. P. KINSELLA, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover art by Thomas Canty.
Cover design by Elizabeth Story.